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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pacquiao-Hatton: The Chance for Something Special

Here’s what makes a fight special: two superb fighters, each assuming the upper hand, neither succumbing to the other, throwing their whole beings into combat, because winning depends on it.

If Vegas is too far away, invite your friends over and cover the pay-per-view. Because on May 2, Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao may achieve just that.

Their styles couldn’t be more dangerous together. Pacquio’s awesomeness is his whirling-dervishness, his eight-armed attack of preternatural speed. Hatton works through pressure: grinding, unyielding, unbearable pressure..

They’ll come right at each other.

The oddsmakers think Pacquiao’s speed will trump Hatton’s pressure. It’s true we’ve never seen Pacquio challenged by anyone other than a boxer, which Hatton certainly is not. Even Morales, when he beat Pacquio, played boxer out of necessity.

But there’s something in Hatton’s favor, something big. The sheer size of the man, naturally fighting ten pounds above Pacquiao, won’t neutralize Pacquiao’s speed, but will mitigate its effect. Hatton can’t dodge Manny’s best shots, but he can absorb them like no one before.

And come right back.

Hatton’s a rare combination of grit and style. Maybe it’s the Manchester in him, urban roughness yoked to English charm. He barrels at you, but his barreling has cunning. When he rips a body shot under your ribs it’s like he knows, on some Darwinian level, the exact shape of a your innards, the better to eviscerate you.

What to say of Pacquiao, the best fighter in the world, whose resume has on it every big name within the conceivable radius of his weight, progressing all the while? Unlike those great ex-sluggers before him, Morales and Barrera, Pacquiao hasn’t shifted to boxer to attain his immortality. He has merely incorporated boxing to structure his slugging. It has made him more ferocious, by making him more exact.

Their last fights, I mean, wow! Manny’s blasé annihilation of Oscar De La Hoya, dehydrated or no; Hatton’s masterful sparring session over master sparrer Pauli Malinaggi. These guys are good, extremely good. They’re at their peak.

But it’s the so-called intangibles that make this fight so damn exciting. It’s the spirit of these men.

We’ve seen Pacquiao, after taking a punch, punch his gloves together and charge in, hoping to get hit again. We’ve seen Hatton stand down the indomitable Kostya Tzu, who quit on his stool having realized, for heaven’s sake, this Brit won’t quit.

A human body can only move so fast or punch so hard. There are natural limits to human endurance. When the very best fight each other, the fight is decided by something else. Call it a channeling of the divine -- through the inconceivably hellish experience of meeting your match.

A few weeks ago, HBO premiered the documentary “Thrilla in Manilla,” about the last great fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The takeaway of that film is that boxing, at its most extraordinary, is flirtation with death. So it is, perhaps, humanity’s most ennobling way of conquering it.

May 2 is another night to learn about boxing, and to learn what we can learn through boxing. If you are awed by Castillo and Corrales, by Hagler and Hearns, by Ali and Frazier, then you have an obligation to pass the gift along, like Pacquiao and Hatton are passing it to us.

Let’s make sure everyone who might see this fight actually does.


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